by Charline Hewit
To say that dance is Svetlana Rudkovskaya’s life would be an oversimplification. The amount of time, energy and effort she puts into ballroom dancing is astonishing, and it is paying off. Svetlana and her husband and dance partner Pavel Cherdantsau, will be competing in the World Dancesport Competition this summer in Russia, an honor extended to only one other couple in the entire United States.
At the age of 13, Svetlana began training in her home country of Belarus and has earned a master’s degree in ballroom dance from the Belarusian University of Culture.
From Belarus, she and Pavel moved to South Korea where, among other roles, they taught ballroom dancing and choreographed routines for television productions. They quickly became popular. “People would come up to me and say, ‘Are you Pavel-Cherdantsau?’ They would call us both by one name.” Svetlana laughs as she recalls, “I would say [after a brief pause], ‘Yes!’”
It is also in South Korea that Svetlana began making costumes for herself and Pavel. “I went to the store to buy a costume and the costumes cost two months salary! So I asked for directions to a fabric store,” she says. “I didn’t even have a sewing machine then; all of the stitching I did by hand.” She continues to make the costumes today, but not just for financial reasons. “When we came to the States, the costumes were two to three times what they were in South Korea. Besides, I am the type of person that if someone else has a costume or a dress, I don’t want it anymore. I like to be original.”
Many of their ballroom dance friends and colleagues from Belarus relocated to the United States and encouraged them to do the same. “Once our [immigration] paperwork came through, our friends asked, ‘Where do you want to live? Do you want to be near the mountains, the city?’ We were willing to go wherever there was work.” This led the couple to Jacksonville Beach. They currently teach private lessons at Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Jacksonville Beach. Svetlana also teaches beginner and advanced Ballroom Dance at Florida State College at Jacksonville.
In between all of this teaching, they travel to train with world-renowned coaches and choreographers to refine their routine. Svetlana says, “We are very fortunate to get to travel with world champions.” Among their trainers is Bryan Watson, nine-time Professional World Latin Dance Champion. They are no strangers to awards and recognition, but the invitation to the World Dancesport Championship in Omsk, Russia is their highest honor to date. “We just hope that all of our hard work will pay off,” Svetlana says.
They refined their routine with their choreographer and showcased it at a fundraising event at Bolero’s on Saturday, Feb. 4. Clarissa DeGrafft, an FSCJ student who is enrolled in Svetlana’s beginner Ballroom Dance class, said, “It was amazing! I can’t believe that she is so accomplished, yet here she is, teaching us very basic steps … Watching her [showcase] makes me want to work harder to make her proud.”